Universities of science & technology explore boosting contributions to sustainability

On 19 October we held a high-level conference on sustainability which featured the launch of a white paper and the announcement of the winner of CESAER student challenge 2023.
19th October 2023
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On 19 October, as part of the CESAER Annual Meetings (CAM), over one hundred in-person participants including Rectors, Presidents and Vice-Chancellors and the broader community from our 58 Member universities across all of Europe, gathered for the high-level conference Contributions of Universities of Science and Technology (S&T) to Sustainability, that took place in Madrid, hosted by Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM).

António Guterres (Secretary General of the UN) together with distinguished invited speakers inspired on boosting contributions to sustainability

The conference was opened by Guillermo Cisneros Pérez (Rector of UPM and Chair of Task Force Sustainability) and kickstarted by four inspiring keynote speeches including a written address by the Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres (alumni of our Member IST); and speeches by Teresa Ribera (Vice President of Government of Spain and Minister for Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge), Ana Iglesias (Professor at UPM) and Sarah Springman (Principal of St Hilda's College at University of Oxford). All four speakers addressed their insights and expectations on the role of universities of S&T to contribute to sustainability, from the global to the national, regional and university levels.

After setting the scene thanks to our keynote speakers, Justyna Szostak (Co-Chair of Task Force Learning & Teaching, and Chair of Internationalisation Committee at Gdańsk Tech) warmly announced the winner of our Student Challenge 2023. This challenge was an excellent way to concretely showcase the contributions of universities of S&T and in this case the crucial role of students and young generations when thinking of innovative new ideas to contribute to sustainability.

We launched our white paper ‘Leading by example: Boosting sustainability through good governance adopted by universities of S&T’

A highlight of this conference had to be the launch of the white paper ‘Leading by example: Boosting sustainability through good governance adopted by universities of S&T’ by Guillermo Cisneros Pérez and Rik Van de Walle (Rector of Ghent University and President of CESAER) followed by reflections and comments by Ana Ramírez, (Deputy-Counselor for Universities, Autonomous Community of Madrid). This white paper aims at inspiring and supporting universities and their leadership to act as agents of great changes and transformations, and to assume their role as autonomous players in society.

The launch of the white paper was then followed by a panel chaired by our Advisor for Innovation & Sustainability Louise Drogoul. In turns, Mari Sundli Tveit (Chief Executive at Research Council of Norway & Governing Board Member at Science Europe), Luke Sheehy (Executive Director of Australian Technology Network of Universities) and Ruth Carrasco (Associate Professor and Associate Director for Sustainable Development Goals at ETSI Industriales, UPM) presented their overall reactions on the white paper and explained how it connects to the broader landscape and to what their respective organisations are doing.

This edition of our CAM high-level conference ended with closing remarks by our President Rik Van de Walle.

The MIDAS project (KU Leuven) won our 2023 student challenge

Launched at the beginning of March 2023 by CESAER, the Student Challenge gave student-led teams from our Members the chance to design and showcase their ideas on how science and technology contribute to sustainability. Submissions were evaluated along three dimensions: (i) Novelty, (ii) Scientific and Technological Excellence, (iii) Sustainability and Impact.

After a thorough assessment and evaluation process, we are delighted to announce that the winning team of the CESAER Student Challenge 2023 is the “MIDAS” project, submitted by a team composed of Elias Broeckhoven, Pol Vanwersch, and Wannes Verbist (PhD candidates at KU Leuven), followed closely by the project Unbound Potential, submitted by a diverse team led by Pier Giuseppe Rivano (Master student at ETH Zürich).

Out of the thirteen amazing projects the CESAER Secretariat received from talented teams across our Members, the novel approach to vaccination that the MIDAS project displayed stood out for its excellence and potential impact on the global healthcare sector and impressed the evaluation panel. The project proposes to advance vaccination through an engineered system that offers many advantages over standard hypodermic needles. This novel system uses fewer materials and smaller vaccine quantities, produces less hazardous waste, and allows administration without specialised personnel, including the potential for self-administration. Elias Broeckhoven, team leader of the MIDAS project, presented this project in front of all the leaders of CESAER Members during the high-level conference.

Coming as a close runner-up, the project Unbound Potential, presented by Pier Giuseppe Rivano, was also presented to our leaders during the high-level conference. Unbound Potential is a project that offers a solution for efficient energy storage, by introducing an innovative approach for upscaling membrane-less batteries into large-scale battery systems, showcasing the potential to significantly advance this type of battery technology. Their solution tackles many areas of sustainability, by offering an energy storage solution that does not rely on scarce and mined materials (in contrast to many conventional battery systems) but on a different supply chain, with a potential broad impact to support the effective use of intermittent, renewable energy sources. This innovation holds the promise of making renewable energy sources more effective by efficiently storing energy.

During the Conference, the other participating projects were presented. We are delighted to congratulate all the teams who presented their passion and dedication to how science and technology contribute to sustainability through their project.


All slides and videos are available here and here.


For more information on the student challenge, please contact our Advisor for Higher Education, Sophie Ratcliff. For enquiries on the conference and the white paper, you may contact our Advisor for Innovation & Sustainability Louise Drogoul.

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